One of the brilliant members of the coterie in which he lived a life of such keen mental activity was Countess D’Agoult, who afterward became famous in the literary world as “Daniel Stern.” Beautiful, witty, accomplished, imaginative, thoroughly in sympathy with her friend George Sand in her views of love and matrimony, and not less daring in testifying to her opinion by actions, the name of Mme. D’Agoult had already been widely bruited abroad in connection with more than one romantic escapade. In the powerful personality of young Franz Liszt, instinct with an artistic genius which aspired like an eagle, vital with a resolute, reckless will, and full of a magnetic energy that overflowed in everything—looks, movements, talk, playing—the somewhat fickle nature of Mme. D’Agoult was drawn to the artist like steel to a magnet. Liszt, on the other hand, easily yielded to the refined and delicious sensuousness of one of the most accomplished women of her time, who to every womanly fascination added the rarest mental gifts and high social place.
The mutual passion soon culminated in a tie which lasted for many years, and was perhaps as faithfully observed by both parties as could be expected of such an irregular connection. Three children were the offspring of this attachment, a son who died, and two daughters, one of whom became the wife of M. Ollivier, the last imperial prime minister of France, and the other successively Mme. Von Bulow and Mme. Wagner, under which latter title she is still known. The chroniques scandaleuses of Paris and other great cities of Europe are full of racy scandals purporting to connect the name of Liszt with well-known charming and beautiful women, but, aside from the uncertainty which goes with such rumors, this is not a feature of Liszt’s life on which it is our purpose to dilate. The errors of such a man, exposed by his temperament and surroundings to the fiercest breath of temptation, should be rather veiled than opened to the garish day. Of the connection with Mme. D’Agoult something has been briefly told, because it had an important influence on his art career. Though the Church had never sanctioned the tie, there is every reason to believe that the lady’s power over Liszt was consistently used to restrain his naturally eccentric bias, and to keep his thoughts fixed on the loftiest art ideals.
Soon after Liszt’s connection with Mme. D’Agoult began, he retired with his devoted companion to Geneva, Switzerland, a city always celebrated in the annals of European literature and art. In the quiet and charming atmosphere of this city our artist spent two years, busy for the most part in composing. He had already attained a superb rank as a pianist, and of those virtuosos who had then exhibited their talents in Paris no one was considered at all worthy to be compared with Liszt except Chopin.